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By John Horvat II


Upon arriving in Lourdes on pilgrimage on a cold, rainy winter day, I was feeling very much the pilgrim. I was cold, tired, and wet. The long trip had been exhausting and the walk in the drizzling rain from the train station to the hotel had drained me of energy. 

As I headed to the grotto of Our Lady, I was hoping to find consolation and comfort. However, the place that had been such a source of blessings before, now felt dreary and uninviting. Walking back to the hotel, there was an eerie silence around the sanctuary that left me perplexed. Nothing seemed to be going as planned.

The next morning after a good night’s rest, I returned to discover what others had told me was really true. During the winter, this extremely popular Marian shrine visited by millions is largely empty. There are no rosary processions or other activities. I had come prepared for “empty” but not for “desolate.”

 

A Desolate Picture

However, that is what I found. During the winter, and especially this very cold winter, Lourdes is absolutely desolate. There is no other word to describe it. All the hotels, restaurants, and shops are shuttered in the general sanctuary area. My own hotel had just two occupants. Almost no one was in the streets. Even the omnipresent souvenir shops were limited to five or six that stayed open for limited hours.

There were times—during the day as well as night—when absolutely no one was in the large basilica plaza that normally holds thousands. At the grotto itself, usually only a few knelt before Our Lady.

And it was freezing. The cold that comes off the river near the Grotto could chill you to the bone. At night, walking the five blocks back to the hotel in the empty streets, I would pray that I would not be attacked in my vulnerability. I later came to the conclusion that not even the thieves thought it worth their while to stalk these cold deserted streets.

Thus, my one-week pilgrimage of desolation began. My last trip had been at the height of the summer when one sees Lourdes in all its glory, full of people, magnificent processions and graces. Now, it felt as if I had walked out of a color picture into a black-and-white print. I would have to endure a pilgrimage quite different from the merely “empty” one that I had planned.

 

Pilgrimage Inside the Silence

Indeed, it took a little while to get used to the desolation, silence, and cold. As I made my way to the Grotto several times a day, I came to realize there was something very calming and alluring about the shrine without all the “noise” of the crowds. It increasingly drew me there.

When the noise stops, it is easier to notice things. The sanctuary bells seemed to be crisper and more beautiful. Sights like the lighted medieval castle that at night appeared to float on the hill near the sanctuary seemed more fairytale-like. The candles seem to burn with greater intensity.

Although it is probably theologically incorrect, it seemed the prayers at the sanctuary were more unobstructed. You had the sense that your prayers were going straight to Our Lady at the Grotto.

There was especially noticeable at night amid the cold when the rest of the world disappeared and only the heavens above could be seen.

One night, snow started to fall that only added to this overall impression of calm isolation. You felt that you could stay for hours, but there was always a point when the maternal solicitude of Our Lady intervened and you sensed it was time to leave the cold and return to the warm hotel.

  

 

A Tremendous Unburdening

Of course, some things at the sanctuary were still open despite everything. These included the baths. The baths are enclosed shallow stone pools with water from the miraculous spring at the Grotto. Pilgrims are invited to immerse themselves in the pools for healing of mind and body. Usually the baths are full of lines of pilgrims divided by men and women waiting their turn. However, this time I was the only one there.

The baths are a great wonder of Lourdes. The volunteers who help you are extremely respectful and charitable. Everything is done modestly and without any embarrassment. The aproned helpers hold a towel in front of you as you prepare for the bath and then wrap it around you. They lead you to the pool and then ask you to pray with them. You are then told to sit in the pool and the water comes up to your neck.

Thankfully the water was cold but not the icy cold that I expected. The helpers then offered me water from a pitcher to wash my face and drink. I did not receive any special cure after the baths, but I can say I sensed a tremendous unburdening of useless cares that stayed with me throughout the pilgrimage.

 

Wasting Lourdes Water

I was disappointed by the new arrangements for getting Lourdes water. I had been used to the faucets right near the Grotto from which the water, like graces, flowed exuberantly and abundantly. This is no longer possible since the faucets have been removed and replaced with low volume faucets that will not allow a person to easily fill containers.

According to a brochure, the new faucets allow one to make a symbolic gesture of “washing” and “drinking.” To fill containers one must go to another place some seventy paces away near the river.

There was also a sign at both locations warning that water is a precious resource and should not be wasted. Given Our Lady’s spring has delivered millions of gallons of water to the faithful over the decades, it is hard not to see a disturbing ecological overtone to the new instructions…

 

The Wonders of Lourdes

There are many other wonders at Lourdes. I was, for example, struck at how the favors of Our Lady are literally written in stone. The inside walls of the Basilica, crypt and Rosary Chapel are all sheathed in marble stones engraved with thousands of messages of thanksgiving for graces given and cures received.

There is the marvelous Way of the Cross of life-size cast iron statues that occupies a huge hill next to the sanctuary. Again there was no one around, and I did the way of the cross alone. From the height of the Calvary, I was surprised by a magnificent panorama of the snow-capped Pyrenees Mountains.

And there was the charm of the town itself, the people, and its markets. The town center is some distance from the sanctuary and did have some activity that allowed one to interact with the people. There were also the pilgrims, albeit few, who share in the wonders done there and with whom you can talk. They come from all over the world drawn by Our Lady’s special blessings.

 

Ask Anything

The pilgrimage of desolation became one of consolation. In the desolate silence, you gradually acquired the habit of thinking, reflecting, and praying. What attracted me the most was the Grotto, which is the heart and soul of Lourdes. When you are almost alone with Our Lady, you experience a kind of sacral intimacy by which you feel you can ask her anything without inhibition. It was easy to spend time asking, asking, and asking yet again. There was time to pray for the crisis inside the Church, for America, and family and friends. And returning to the hotel, you thought of yet more things to ask.

And Our Lady responds by encouraging your petitions. Her statue at the Grotto is discrete, polite, and very French. She looks slightly upward as if to say “ask me anything because I know how to arrange everything with my Son.” And you are compelled to comply.

 

Desolation or Crowds?

As the weekend approached, however, the “crowds” started to arrive. Sometimes thirty or even fifty people would arrive at a time. After a week of desolation, these few pilgrims seemed like a multitude that broke the desolation. Of course, I would never begrudge these pilgrims their chance to come to the Blessed Mother. But it ironically served to highlight that the desolation I had originally feared was now immensely treasured.

As one who has experienced both the pilgrimage of what might be called triumph (with the crowds) and that of desolation, I asked myself which one was preferable.

I am inclined to say both have their role. There are times in the history of the Church, like our own, that are best expressed by the desolation. It is then when pilgrimages like these teach us to abstract from the noise of the world and be attentive to grace. In the midst of the desolation, we sense a greater need to go straight to Our Lady unobstructed, and this gives us courage.

However, there are other times when the pilgrimage of triumph helps us grow spiritually. We sense the universal mission of the Church that joyfully unites all peoples. We sense the enormous attraction of the Church even in our neo-pagan times. It is good that there be huge triumphant rosary processions to assure us and to create in us the certainty that the Church will prevail despite everything.

In the pilgrimage of our own lives, we all go through times of desolation and triumph. Each has its role, lessons, and special graces. Both are necessary and part of life. The important thing is the object our pilgrimage which is found in Our Lady who leads us to God and heaven. With this in mind, whichever pilgrimage you choose, you will never go away disappointed.

 


As seen in Crisis Magazine

 

 

DAILY QUOTE for September 26, 2017

The rosary is the book of the blind, where souls see and the...

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September 26

 The rosary is the book of the blind,
where souls see and there enact
the greatest drama of love the world has ever known;
it is the book of the simple,
which initiates them into mysteries and knowledge more satisfying
than the education of other men; it is the book of the aged,
whose eyes close upon the shadow of this world, and
open on the substance of the next.
The power of the rosary is beyond description.

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen


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SAINT OF THE DAY

Sts. Cosmas and Damian

They offered medical services for free – a charitable act...

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Sts. Cosmas and Damian

Very little is known about Sts. Cosmas and Damian. It is said that they were twin brothers from Arabia some time in the early 200s. They were Christians, and students of medicine. They dedicated their lives to God and offered medical services for free – a charitable act that made them renowned among the people and was often the cause of conversions to the Faith, a fact which did not go unnoticed by officials.
Cosmas and Damian, who had lovingly become known in the East as the “moneyless ones” because of their kindness, were killed around the year 283. When the persecution under Emperor Diocletian began, their reputation as do-gooders marked them as objects of ruthless cruelty and they were both savagely tortured and beheaded.

Many churches have been erected in their honor. They are the patron saints of pharmacists.

WEEKLY STORY

Sweet Star of the Sea

For the first time, our Blessed Lady was on the sea. She mar...

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Sweet Star of the Sea


Did you know that the Blessed Virgin Mary, embarked on a sea voyage in her lifetime?

Though this information does not come to us by way of Scriptures, it reaches us through a trustworthy private revelation, which the Church approved and leaves to our discretion to believe.

Such is the vast work entitled, City of God, written by Venerable Maria of Agreda, a Conceptionist nun and mystic of the seventeenth century to whom the Virgin Mary dictated her life.

One of the fascinating details of this account is the story of how St. John, to whom Our Lord entrusted His mother, wishing to protect Our Lady from the persecution developing in Jerusalem, moved her to the town of Ephesus in Turkey. To this day there is a house in Ephesus which is claimed to have been her abode.

So it was that the beloved disciple and Mary Most Holy came to the shore, and boarding a ship, made for the high seas.

For the first time, our Blessed Lady was on the sea. She marvelled at the might and beauty of the ocean, discerning the greatness, the power, and the charm of her Son written in its glistening movements. She praised God for this His mighty work, at the same time commanding all the inhabitants of the deep to give praise to their Creator. Immediately all the creatures of the ocean, from the biggest to the smallest began to show their heads above the breaking waves, gathering around the vessel and bobbing up and down in gleeful acknowledgement of their Queen’s presence in their midst.

At one point there were so many schools of fish and maritime animals crowding around the bow, that the ship’s progress was hindered. At this, the gentle queen, at St. John’s suggestion, graciously blessed them and dismissed them. All promptly obeyed, with one last foaming show of joy, to the astonishment of all on board who were ignorant of the origin of this wonder.

In this voyage, Our Lady also sensed how terrible a menace the sea can be when aroused, to those sailing it. In her maternal concern, she asked her Son to grant her the particular privilege to be a safe haven to all who invoke her at sea at such times of peril. At this prayer, Our Lord granted her the awesome title of “Star of the Sea” and the assurance to all those who invoke her on the ocean, never to perish by its raging might.

A twenty-first century appendix is that while relating this story to an uncle who was a Navy Commander and devotee of Mary, his face lit up on hearing of this divine grant and exclaimed, “I know by experience that what you tell me is true!”

By Andrea F. Phillips

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For the first time, our Blessed Lady was on the sea. She marveled at the might and beauty of the ocean,

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